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updated 4/19/2010 12:33:15 PM ET 2010-04-19T16:33:15

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, Ed Rendell, Errol Louis, Ron Reagan, Chris Cillizza, Chris Dodd

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Can you hear me now?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

How‘s he doing?  When Ed Koch was first elected mayor of New York, he used to walk the streets asking people, “How‘m I doing?”  If you ask this question about Barack Obama, the answer you get depends on whom you ask.  His big win on health care, his big summit to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, his big push for reform on Wall Street give him good marks here in Washington.  But beyond the Washington Beltway, that freeway that surrounds this city, Obama hasn‘t rung the bell.  What is it that Washington knows that the rest of the country doesn‘t?  And what is it that Obama lacks that the guy out in rural America has noticed first?

Also, you know how Republicans peddled the bogus claim that health care reform would create “death panels”?  Well, now they‘re fighting reform on Wall Street by saying the bill that president wants will give help to Wall Street.  It will create endless bail-outs.  Harry Reid calls this position as Orwellian as it gets, meaning words mean the opposite of what they intend.  Can the GOP do to financial reform what they did to health care?  And will Democrats let them get away with it?

Plus: Right face, backwards, march.  What do you call a political party that‘s so conservative, even Florida‘s Charlie Crist and Utah‘s Robert Bennett need not apply?  You call it the Republican Party.  Is it a winning strategy or political suicide?

And speaking of lurching to the right, now we‘ve got Michele Bachmann

well, she‘ll say just about anything.  She‘s now calling the Obama administration a “gangster government.”  Does she have any appreciation of what words mean and that those words have consequences in almost every case?  Bill Clinton‘s warning that Republicans‘ demonization of Democrats right now could stir up an anti-government act of violence.

Finally, could someone please tell Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri that the Soviet Union no longer exists?  If you sit on the Armed Services Committee, isn‘t this something you should know?  Check out the “Sideshow” tonight.

Let‘s start with the Republican Party‘s lurch to the right.  Chuck Todd is NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director, and Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix” for “The Washington Post.”

Chuck, I really haven‘t seen this pattern before in my life.  It‘s fairly new, this sort of purge.  I‘m going to talk about in my commentary tonight, but let‘s talk about the news value here.  This purge—

Pollster.com now has Rubio, Marco Rubio, who was seen as somewhat of a fringe candidate about a year ago, now leading the governor of Florida by an average of 30 points.  Look at that crossover.  That‘s in Republican primary.  So now Charlie Crist—there‘s all kinds of buzz out there that he might go independent because he can‘t win, this moderate Republican, in his own primary.  Look at this race now as it stands if he goes independent, 32 for Crist, the governor, 30 for Marco Rubio, the leading Republican candidate, the man of the right, and Kendrick Meek, who‘s the Democratic candidate.

Chuck, it just seems like the Republican Party is purging, first with Arlen Specter, now it‘s Charlie Crist and it‘s Bob Bennett, now it‘s John McCain.  Nobody‘s eligible to be a Republican anymore unless you‘re a movement conservative, at home on the same platform as birthers.  You don‘t have to be a birther, exactly, but you‘ve got to be at home with that far-right crowd.  Your thoughts?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, I think any time we have seen a political party recover from a big loss or a series of big losses, you see this.  You know, this is—in many ways, I would argue, this isn‘t new.  We saw it after ‘76.  We saw a bunch of Republicans do this, and it gave Republicans a huge surge, for instance, in Senate seats, but you saw there was a lot of internal churn inside the Republican Party, where sort of the Ford wing of the party versus the then Reagan wing of the party, and the Reagan (INAUDIBLE)

I would—I guess I would—I would push back a little bit, Chris, and say we have seen this before and we‘ve seen it—Democrats have done this in their time.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  We look back at ‘86 and ‘88 and some—of some of that.  Now, that said, what‘s going on now?  Look, you can explain all of them individually, but I do think you see some parts of the Republican Party who see an opportunity here.  Bob Bennett is simply a cheap, easy opportunity, for the Club for Growth in this case, but sort of a conservative constituency group inside the Republican Party, to go and get a quote, unquote “easy scalp” in the name of Bob Bennett.  Bennett had done a terrible job.  He didn‘t go back home.  He didn‘t visit Utah enough.  You know, he didn‘t do sort of his own politics here, and he got caught with his pants down.

And you sit there, and yes, it‘s hard to believe that a guy like Bob Bennett, not exactly the definition of a liberal Republican, would somehow get pushed out by a more conservative wing of the party.  But they‘re pushing him out because they can.  It‘s easy to do.

Florida, same thing.  And look, Crist also had the added issue of being governor at a time when it‘s not easy being a governor of any state right now and it‘s a pretty—you‘ve got to make some unpopular decisions.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what I‘m seeing here, Chris, is a series of purges.  It‘s not that the party‘s moving to the right.  It‘s that incumbents like governors, five-term senators like Specter, party leaders like John McCain, conservatives like Bob Bennett all being pushed out of the party, told to go away, end your political career because you‘re not a movement conservative.  I do think this is a little different than a party moving right or left or cocooning, if you will, after a bad loss.  I think there‘s a real hunt, and maybe I—maybe Chuck said this well—a hunt for people who are easy pickings to get rid of them.  our thoughts, Chris?  And then I‘ll go back to Chuck.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Chris, let me paint it slightly differently.  I think it‘s more of an outsider-insider thing at the moment.  I think—I think that being—having a congress or a rep or a sen or a gov before your name is not good broadly in America at the moment.  Polls show people don‘t trust politicians even less than they normally do.

I think that this is the sort of thing that‘s going on because people want change.  They voted for change, what they believed to be change, in 2008.  You saw that same dynamic in Scott Brown‘s victory.  I mean, Scott Brown has said, essentially, I ran on the same message Barack Obama did and got elected as a Republican in Massachusetts because I ran on change.  People don‘t trust politicians.

I don‘t know that it‘s only the case in the Republican Party.  Look in

well, look in Pennsylvania.  You got Joe Sestak running as an outsider running against Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.  In the Colorado in the Senate, you‘ve got Andrew Romanoff running as an outsider against appointed senator Michael Bennet in the Colorado Democratic primary.  I think it‘s more insider-outsider thing.

Clearly, there is a purging element of the party on the Republican side, but I think that‘s more about what Chuck‘s talking about-...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

CILLIZZA:  ... which is the party trying to return to its roots, find where it stands and then build outward.

MATTHEWS:  I think there‘s something else here, but let‘s go—here‘s

asked about his running as an independent, which Crist still denies, here‘s what he said today.  Your thoughts on this.  This is in “The Miami Herald” today.

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Quote, “We‘ll look at that later on.”  So having had his party—his campaign chairman deny he‘s switching, he‘s now fudging in his own name.  Your thoughts?  This guy‘s the governor of the state, and if he has to run independent, that tells you about the Republican Party.

TODD:  Well, I can tell you about what we‘ve been able to report inside the political unit, and that‘s this, and that he‘s getting—he‘s getting two bits of advice now, which is saying, Look, if you really want to be a U.S. senator and you want to do this now, your only path, your only viable path is to run as an independent.  If you can be patient and you want to try to repair and you want to stay in the Republican Party and you want to lick your wounds a little bit, get out.  Finish your term as governor and then go run against Bill Nelson in 2012.

So that‘s basically, from what I understand, is the advice that Charlie Crist is getting right now, you know, and that‘s why you‘re hearing this sort of hedge when Crist keeps being asked about this.  There is no path to winning the Republican nomination without Marco Rubio imploding.

And it seems as if this guy is made of Teflon, that they‘ve tried—

Crist has spent a month beating him up.  He got some bad press, Rubio did.  It‘s not really sticking.  You don‘t see that much movement here a little bit.  So he may go independent.

Now, the down side for Crist on going independent is that he—there‘s a—you don‘t have a base if you run as an independent.  A Republican or a Democrat has a base.  If he runs as an independent, you can make a case that Kendrick Meek is the favorite to win this seat and it ends up being that Crist—because the Democratic base in many ways is much stronger if you have one moderate Republican running against—if you‘re getting to run against two Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think...

CILLIZZA:  And Chuck—you know, Chris, Chuck...

MATTHEWS:  I think you have a point there, Chuck...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Can I just real quickly one thing?  Another problem for Charlie Crist—Charlie Crist, I think in his heart of hearts, still thinks he can be elected as president.  He knows running as an independent kiboshes those dreams.  So they...

TODD:  I—well, see, I...

CILLIZZA:  This is a big, big, big decision.

TODD:  Well, this is where I disagree with you, Chris.  I think, look, if—there‘s some—there‘s something to be—if Crist got elected as the independent senator from the state of Florida...

CILLIZZA:  True enough.  Bloomberg-Crist 2012.

TODD:  ... he becomes the most powerful senator in the United States Senate.  And then suddenly, you know, all this baggage of political opportunism is gone and instead, he becomes probably the most viable...

CILLIZZA:  (INAUDIBLE) middle.

TODD:  ... third party candidate in the middle in the country.

CILLIZZA:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  OK, back to you, Chuck.  It seems to me he has to answer this question if he switches.  This is about party identification.  Sooner or later—actually, sooner, rather than later, you have to say who you‘re going to side with when it comes to voting for leadership.

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Won‘t he have to say from the first moment he announces as an independent...

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... If elected, I will vote with the Republicans?  And therefore, there will be, as you put it, two Republican candidates for senator in this general election coming up in November, which does probably give a shot to a very difficult candidacy, a long shot by the Democrat, because he can just be the Democrat, hold that base...

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and hope that Charlie Crist can get a big chunk of Republicans, right?

TODD:  Well, that‘s right.  And look, what did—what did Joe Lieberman do?  Joe Lieberman basically made the case that he was going to be with the Democrats.  And then the national Republican Party didn‘t have a serious candidate in that race, and between McCain and a couple of other people, they sent the message to Republicans in Connecticut, You know what?  It‘s OK to be for Lieberman, we‘re kind of for Lieberman, too, even if it means he‘s voting with the Democrats.  And so Lieberman dropped enough hints that he would, because he had that chairmanship that he could get...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

TODD:  The problem that Crist has, is you‘re absolutely right.  He‘s got to make that decision.  And if he says Republican, that gives Meek—

Meek has real money.  This is a real campaign.  This is not the Connecticut Republican situation that we saw in 2006.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think.  And by the way, he‘s African-American.  I think the Democrats have to be very careful about looking like they might not be giving full support to a Democratic candidate, even in a race where they might not be offended by a Charlie Crist victory.  Anyway, thank you so much, Chuck Todd, have a nice weekend, Chris Cillizza, the two best there are.

CILLIZZA:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: Are Republicans fighting reform on Wall Street by pretending to be for it?  Is this the great Orwellian trick, saying that Obama‘s out to help Wall Street with more bail-outs, when in fact, he‘s out to get tough with them?  Is this Frank Luntz at his worst?  He‘s the guy who comes up with words, by the way, that make the opposite seem true.

But first, in one minute, unemployment rates continue to fall in many U.S. States right now.  We‘re going to have good news right now for everybody.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Another stand-off is looming between Democrats and Republicans, this time over financial regulatory reform, or Wall Street reform, you might call it.  Senate majority leader Harry Reid wants to bring a bank bill to the floor next week, perhaps late in the week.  But now minority leader Mitch McConnell says he‘s got 41 Republicans to block the effort.  He‘s got a letter from them opposing the reform program right now.  The letter reads in part, “This bill allows for endless taxpayer bail-outs.”  It was written by Frank Luntz.  I don‘t have to read the whole letter.  This was written a PR guy.

Let me go to Chris Dodd, the chairman of the committee.  I want to get to this right now.  We‘ve got a lot of Republicans possibly joining this bill.  Has this become a dishonest discussion, with the Republicans being led not by experts on Wall Street, just by people like Frank Luntz, whose job it is, is to come up with dishonest language?

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), BANKING COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Well, I don‘t want to brand them all this way, Chris.  I mean, I‘ve dealt with people like Richard Shelby on the committee, Bob Corker, Mike Crapo, Judd Gregg.  There are a number of people I think honestly are looking to get a good bill.  We may disagree about parts of it, but I believe their motivations are good.

Unfortunately, the minority leader I don‘t think is paying much attention to them.  And as you point out—immunity, I put the Frank Luntz memo in the Senate record the other day and compared the language between the minority leader‘s speech and Frank Luntz‘s memo.  And the Frank Luntz memo, by the way, was written long before I wrote a bill.  So he was telling them how to defeat the bill even before there was a bill.

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s a spinmeister.

DODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He used to be considered somewhat nonpartisan.  Now he‘s clearly working for one party, the political party, Lutz.  He‘s brilliant at it.  He comes up with words like—phrases like the “endless taxpayer bail-out.”  Is there a smidgen of truth to the fact that your bill that you‘re pushing has money—more money for Wall Street?  Will any Wall Street baron get a nickel out of this and still keep his job?  That‘s a key question I‘d like answered.

DODD:  None...

MATTHEWS:  Can you keep your job and get anymore government money?

DODD:  No.  In fact, the last thing you‘re going to see in this bill, which has been a common determination, is to end forever the implicit guarantee that if you‘re a financial firm and you get in trouble, the taxpayers are going to bail you out.  No white horses riding in for you.  The white horse is dead.  The management gets fired.  The shareholders lose money.  Creditors suffer.  If you fail, you fail.  You‘re over with, you‘re done, you‘re in bankruptcy.  You‘re in receivership.  Nothing could be clearer in the bill.

A good Republican like Sheila Bair, who heads the FDIC, appointed—

Bob Dole‘s legal counsel, been at the FDIC, a Bush appointee—she says it better than anybody.  This bill ends “too big to fail.”  Nothing could be clearer, and my Republican friends know that.

MATTHEWS:  Did it take catastrophe or near-catastrophe to get this through the heads of yourself and the other Democrats, so that you at least, your party, could at least get it right?  It looks like one party‘s got it right.  Some members of the other party may be getting it right.  You‘re still hoping to get what, five or ten Republicans to join you?

DODD:  Yes, I‘m still—look, the door‘s still open, Chris.  I‘ve worked for a year at this.  My Republicans on the committee know that I‘ve reached out.  I assigned Republicans to work with Democrats on major parts of this bill dealing with the exotic instruments, the consumer issues, as well as the issue of “too big to fail” in resolution.  All of this has been very well worked on.  I introduced a bill in November.  We changed it.  We worked at it.

So this notion this is partisan bill that still allows “too big to fail”—it‘s anything but a partisan bill.  And it does anything—doesn‘t even do anything, in effect, that would allow for a “too big to fail” process to move forward.

And I‘m still hopeful over the next few days—I think there are a number of Republicans, frankly, are tired of this “just say no.”  They realize this bill is necessary.  You can‘t go back to the American people and tell them, We didn‘t do anything.  What, you read about Goldman Sachs today, you read about the billions of dollars that have been made by firms that got bailed out by American taxpayers, and we‘re going to leave the status quo in place?  I don‘t believe a number of Republicans want to be a part of that.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of—I mean, you‘ve had to take—you‘ve take -- (INAUDIBLE) have to take a nickel, but you‘ve taken a lot of money from Wall Street to keep in office.  And I‘ve looked at your financial records.  You‘re one of the leading recipients of money from Wall Street.  You deal with these guys . You sit down with them.  Let‘s go to that.  Is there a fundamental problem of the Banking Committee, who‘s ever running it, whoever succeeds you there, will always be taking money from the industry you‘re trying to regulate?  Is that a fundamental—you‘re leaving office now.  Is that a fundamental problem of our political system.

DODD:  Well, that‘s true of any committee, whether it be the Agriculture Committee, the Armed Services Committee...

MATTHEWS:  Well, but banking especially.  It‘s all that money—all that money protecting all that money and giving it to you and other politicians.  Isn‘t that a fundamental problem?

DODD:  Well, listen, I‘ve been an advocate of public financing of federal elections ever since I‘ve been in Congress, so I—you know, believe me, would I like to change the system, Chris?  Absolutely.  Is it going to change between now and some near-term date?  I doubt it.  And until (INAUDIBLE) have self-funders, people write their own checks to run your campaigns.  The question is, Do you change your mind?  Do you accommodate the industry that you receive contributions from or not?  And frankly, as you well know, in my case, over the years, I‘ve never accommodated the interests of the industry. I‘m interested in what they have to say.  There‘s some very good people who work in the financial services sector. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DODD:  And there are others who frankly have—are corrupt, in my view, and the system is corrupt.  The system is broken. 

That‘s why we wrote a check for $700 billion, to bail out these firms, because you had entities out there luring people into mortgages they couldn‘t afford.  Consumers weren‘t being protected.  Fees and interest rates were being charged exorbitantly.  All of that needs to be fixed. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DODD:  This bill does a lion‘s share of all of those things I have just mentioned. 

MATTHEWS:  This Goldman Sachs thing, it looks to me criminal.  It looks to me like you lure people into investments you know are going to fail.  They‘re stinking offers.  They‘re not good investments.  You know that, so that you can hedge it and make money on the other end.  It just seems to me that‘s a classic...

DODD:  Well, again...

MATTHEWS:  ... bit of corruption, isn‘t it? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess you can‘t say that yet.  But is this a systemic problem here on Wall Street?  Is the money being stolen from the people before they get the regular investor?  Are we all chumps to invest in the stock market? 

DODD:  Well, you shouldn‘t be.  And obviously that‘s why they created the Securities and Exchange Commission.  I applaud the commission for the action they are taking today. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DODD:  And you‘re right.  Obviously, this is a legal matter, has to be carried out to the end of it all.

But, frankly, a lot of us know.  You don‘t have to be a legal eagle, you don‘t have to be an expert in this area to know that there are people making billions of dollars because they were luring people.  Look what they did with mortgages.  Forget about what—the stock market. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DODD:  When you read the Web site of brokers, the first rule for a broker was, convince that borrower you‘re their financial adviser. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  You were getting paid quickly.  The banks were selling your mortgage.  And many of them knew the mortgages weren‘t worth anything.  And some poor unsuspecting investor was purchasing them.  And, of course, the system collapsed. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DODD:  All of that was done with the full knowledge of what was occurring out there.  You don‘t have to go to the stock market to find that.  You could find that in your local broker. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Republican support for this, because I follow politics more than finance, obviously.

And I‘m looking at Corker, Chambliss, Brown, Scott Brown, McCain, Bennett, Bond—that‘s Kit Bond—Snowe, Collins, Voinovich, Gregg.  It looks to me like your best bets to join you besides the two senators from Maine are people leaving politics. 

Why is that?  Do you have to be on your way out to do the right thing? 

(LAUGHTER)

DODD:  No, no.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m being serious here.  I‘m looking.  Voinovich, he‘s thinking of becoming a—Judd Gregg.  You know, these guys look like—

Kit Bond.  At least three of these guys are leaving.  Is that why they are willing to do the right thing?  They want to look good on the way out the door? 

(CROSSTALK)

DODD:  No, Judd Gregg and I worked on some issues together over time.  Kit Bond and I wrote the Family Medical Leave together.  George Voinovich, these are decent, good people. 

Look, and there are other people as well.  Richard Shelby and I have worked together.  We met again the other night to work on this some more.  I‘m still—as I said to you, Chris, the door is open to get a compromise on this bill, if we can. 

I‘m not interested in just scoring points politically.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

DODD:  I‘m interested in writing a good bill.  This is not about Washington.  It‘s about the 8.5 million people who have lost their jobs, the seven million who have lost their homes, the millions who watched their retirement accounts evaporate overnight because of the shenanigans that went on in the financial services sector. 

This is not about two political parties.  It‘s about a country that came to the brink of financial collapse and whether or not we‘re going to take the steps to correct the system, so it doesn‘t happen again. 

MATTHEWS:  Again, going back, to complete the circle, the Republican leadership, Mitch McConnell, keeps reciting this mantra: endless taxpayer bailouts. 

DODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Just to get you on the record, Mr. Chairman, that‘s a dishonest statement, right? 

DODD:  Completely.  And he knows it. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a dishonest statement?

DODD:  He and I have talked about it.  It‘s a complete falsehood.  He knows that.  We have worked at this so tirelessly.  The suggestion that is the case, and the further suggestion that I have written a partisan bill, I don‘t know where he‘s been for the last year. 

I have conducted anything but a partisan—a partisan committee in trying to arrive at this—this product. 

MATTHEWS:  Your successor on the Democratic ticket in—in Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, is he running a strong-enough campaign?  There‘s been concern that he‘s not doing the work of a real candidate because he‘s never had a race before. 

Do you think he‘s got the stuff to run a really tough campaign and hold that seat for your party? 

DODD:  No question in my mind about it at all.  He‘s got—a strong candidate.  He‘s been on the ballot any number of times.  He‘s been a great attorney general.  And, in my view, he will be the next United States senator from Connecticut, filling my seat. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee.  Thank you for coming on, on a Friday night.

DODD:  You bet, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next: the late show—the late-night shows are having fun with the fight between NASA and President Obama.  That‘s in the “Sideshow” tonight, part of it, anyway. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now for the “Sideshow.” 

First, Stephen Colbert brings the kerfuffle over President Obama‘s cancellation of the NASA Constellation program to its logical conclusion. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  He‘s catching major heat over cutting funding for NASA.  I just wish there was some way to tie health care to NASA. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To tie health care, by the way, to NASA...

COLBERT:  Yes? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... this health care bill is bad for America.  And now you have another theme here, you know, is what the—is what the president doing here bad for America in terms of space exploration? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s health care got to do with the space program?  Two words: Barack Obama.  His critics just like hitting his agenda as bad for America.  Why, you bother to ask?  Because it‘s Obama‘s, of course.

In related news, when it comes to the space race, it turns out old battles die hard.  Republican Congressman Todd Akin put out a statement whacking at the president‘s NASA decision by invoking the danger of—catch this—the Soviet Union. 

Congressman Akin wrote in his press release—quote—“The cancellation of the space shuttle‘s replacement will effectively leave the United States reliant upon the Soviet Union to grant us access to low-Earth orbit.  As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I‘m very concerned with that possibility.”

Well, that press release was later revised to say “Russian Federation” in place of “Soviet Union.”  You got to credit Huffington Post for that catch.  I guess Congressman Akin and his staff are still operating in a cold world mentality.  The Soviet Union died in 1991, something that somebody on the Armed Services Committee ought to know. 

Finally, a lesson to always follow the money.  CNN tracked down A.B.  Culvahouse.  He‘s the aide in charge of vetting the McCain campaign‘s vice presidential picks.  You remember that?  Of course, in that role, he got in-depth looks at V.P. hopefuls like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and, of course, Sarah Palin. 

But it turns out Culvahouse has only donated to one of those V.P.  picks, one of their political action committees.  The only he‘s committed to?  Tim Pawlenty.  Well, I also hear—that tells you something.

I also hear that Pawlenty is the one guy who has got them scared at the White House. 

Time for the “Number.”

Back in 2006, then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Chair Rahm Emanuel sparred with Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean, who believed in investing DNC money across the board, in all 50 states, instead of just focusing on hot congressional races. 

Well, times have changed.  Rahm is now chief of staff in the White House, and Howard Dean is out of leadership.  In 2010, how much will the DNC contribute to the midterm congressional elections?  Fifty million dollars, a number that they‘re calling unprecedented.  The DNC places its bets on 2010 to the tune of $50 million—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  If you ask how President Obama is doing, the answer you get depends on whom you ask.  And we will ask Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks tumbling today as securities fraud charges against Goldman Sachs had a ripple effect across the banking sector, the Dow Jones falling almost 126 points, but bouncing back from earlier lows of around 170 points, the S&P 500 down 19 points, the Nasdaq finishing 34 points in the red. 

Of course, Goldman Sachs was the big story of the day on Wall Street, shares falling more than 12.5 percent after the SEC accused Goldman of failing to disclose conflicts of interest in subprime mortgage sales.  Investors ultimately lost more than $1 billion. 

The news triggered a moderate sell-off across the sector, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan and Citigroup all finishing between 4 and 5 percent lower on the day. 

Outside the sector, Google shares plunging more than 7 percent today as investors worried about surging payments to other sites that direct search traffic back to Google. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama got his health care bill signed into law, by why is he still having trouble getting most of the country to like what he‘s done?  Is there a disconnect between what‘s happening in Washington, in this city, and what‘s happening across the country? 

Ed Rendell is the governor of Pennsylvania and the former general chairman of the Democratic National Committee. 

Your party chairman in Pennsylvania, T.J. Rooney, the wonderful fellow, said, “Democrats need to put away the rubber sheets and sleep in dry beds.”

Now, I don‘t know if you can improve on that metaphor, Governor.  What‘s your view about the Democrats wetting their bed, if you will, in worry these days? 

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, I think there‘s two reasons that you have seen that phenomenon, that the president is hailed in Washington for being a strong leader—and, certainly, in the last three or four weeks, he‘s been every bit of that and then some—but it hasn‘t seemed to be reflected in polls across the nation and in Pennsylvania as well. 

And I think there are two reasons, one, because the Republicans clearly won the spin war on stimulus at the very beginning.  They polluted the American people‘s minds about a bill that‘s been tremendously beneficial.  You cited a statistic earlier that Pennsylvania is one of three states that had significant job gains, almost 20,000 new jobs created in the last six weeks? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RENDELL:  Well, stimulus has been responsible for 15,200 of the jobs in this first quarter. 

So, we‘re not getting the credit for what was a very good bill and has had a very good effect in many different ways, because we lost the spin war.  On health care over the summer last year, we got the living daylights kicked out of us. 

So, number one, the Republicans have done a good job spinning, and they have been really dishonest about it and hypocritical about it.  All these Republicans who voted against the stimulus show up at every highway groundbreaking or every ribbon-cutting at a rebuilt bridge, even though they voted against the funds.

We have done a lousy job, and the Republicans have done a good job.  And we have done a poor job, all of us Democrats, in explaining to the American people what health care is going to do, what the stimulus has done, and so many of the good things the president has done. 

So, I agree with T.J.  Let‘s stop cowering behind the shower curtain.  Let‘s get out there and explain it and be proud of what we have—what‘s been accomplished. 

And, Chris, I think you will see, between now and November, as, for example, health care sets in—in Pennsylvania, 140,000 sick people who don‘t have health care will be covered by high-risk pools because of the health care reform bill -- 400,000 seniors, because of the health care reform bill, will get a $250 check this year to help them with the prescription doughnut hole -- 150,000 Pennsylvania businesses, 25 employees or less, that employ 650,000 people, will get a 35 percent tax credit this year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RENDELL:  When that news sinks in, I think you‘re going to see a change. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to something here.  I don‘t—I know you don‘t want to be self-serving.  And I‘m not being sarcastic here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But we—you and I grew up in a country where there were surrogates for a president, where you had five or 10 members of the Cabinet, men and women of different backgrounds, out there selling for him. 

I think of the way that John Connally could do the job for Dick Nixon in the old days. 

RENDELL:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  They went out there and sold the case.

This Cabinet is filled with non-political people, Gates.  Senator Clinton is out of politics right now as secretary of state.  I understand that.  But they have got Geithner, who is not a politician.  The other—there‘s nobody out there but this president selling.  He just seems so alone. 

We‘re sitting here tonight talking about how is he doing.  Why aren‘t we saying how the government‘s doing, all of these guys?  Why—are you willing to critique this crowd?  Is anybody out there beating the drum the way you were the last five minutes?  I haven‘t heard them. 

RENDELL:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know I‘m not asking you to brag about yourself, but I don‘t hear anybody talking like you‘re talking. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  But I—there‘s something to what you say, Chris, but I think it‘s incumbent, not just on the Cabinet, but on Democratic governors or Democratic mayors, on Democratic senators. 

I mean, too many people are running from what has been an enormously successful administration.  And we‘re letting the Republicans off the hook. 

Look, I believe in nonpartisanship.  And I think we should reach out.  And we have done that to a degree in Pennsylvania.  But—but how do we let these guys get away with bloody murder? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RENDELL:  All we heard during the health care debate was, you can‘t do it because the public opinion polls say it‘s unpopular.  Well, as I recall, the surge, the surge of troops to Iraq was widely unpopular among the American people. 

And every Republican voted for it.  It worked out pretty well, didn‘t it?  So they‘re hypocrites.  They‘re hypocrites.  And they have been hypocrites all along.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

RENDELL:  And it‘s incumbent upon all of us, not just the Cabinet—and I agree, the Cabinet could do more.  But it‘s incumbent upon all of us to fight back. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s hear the president. Here he is the other night in Florida, in Miami, at a fund-raiser.  Let‘s listen to his pitch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Before we could start healing, we had to stop the bleeding.  We needed to make sure that an economic disaster did not become a full-blown depression. 

And some of those short-term steps designed to stabilize the economy, they weren‘t popular.  The Recovery Act, even though we gave tax cuts to everybody, somehow got confused with the bank bailout.  And then there was the auto thing and everybody said, gosh, what‘s Obama doing?  He‘s—he‘s not listening to the polls.  This is unpopular. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question.  I guess I got to ask you about Pennsylvania politics.  I only got a minute.  Arlen over Sestak.  Arlen over Toomey.  Is that your bet? 

RENDELL:  Yes, I think he‘ll beat Sestak fairly easily.  I wish Joe would pull out and save his money for another race.  And I think Arlen‘s gained on Toomey lately.  And when the people of Pennsylvania find out that congressman—former Congressman Toomey has worked for Wall Street interests, as the president of the Club for Growth, I think you‘ll see a radical turn-around. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he a radical?  Is Toomey a Radical, too radical for Pennsylvania?  Is he out there with Santorum? 

RENDELL:  He‘s not a radical.  But he‘s a dyed in the wool conservative.  And he worked for the Club for Growth, who has a philosophy that would mean our roads and our highways and our bridge would crumble, because we‘re not going to invest in the future of this country.  And people have to understand that. 

MATTHEWS:  I like the other day when he said we should step aside and let the auto industry crash.  I thought it was a great line.  Thank you very much, Governor Ed Rendell.  Stop losing weight, will you.

Up next, here‘s you‘re bobble-head, by the way.  We have your bobble-head here.  We‘ve got to show you.  Here it is.

Up next, find out what Bill Clinton has to say about Congressman Michele Bachmann calling the Obama administration a gangster government.  She‘s unbelievable. 

But first, in a minute, guess who is considering a 2012 White House run.  I‘m curious.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  My favorite, don‘t retreat, reload.  And that is not a call for violence. 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  I think they don‘t realize that your IQ scores are way above average.  We‘re on to them.  We‘re on to this gangster government. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Sarah Palin, first of all, at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.  And then Michele Bachmann at yesterday‘s big Tea Party rally here.  In today‘s “New York Times,” President Clinton took issue with Bachmann‘s term “gangster government,” saying, quote—this is the former president.  “They are not gangsters.  They were elected.  They were not doing anything they were not elected to do.” 

And then speaking today at a commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, President Clinton compared the environment right now to then.  Pretty scary stuff.  Ron Reagan is an author and political commentator.  Errol Louis is a columnist for “New York Daily News,” and a radio talk show host.

I want to start with Ron.  Bill Clinton doesn‘t say much, but I think here he said something very important.  The mood, the zeitgeist, the atmospherics, if you will, right now, it seems to me, are toxic.  They‘re hateful.  You hear similar language all the way over to the far right, all the way over to the center right, where there‘s the Tea people, or it‘s the Tea Bag people, or the militia people, or just conservative politicians.  They‘re all using the language of delegitimatization.  This is an un-American administration.  It‘s almost foreign.  He may not be an American.  It all rhymes with he shouldn‘t be there. 

RON REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well it‘s easy to ridicule these people.  And God knows they deserve ridicule.  They‘re fools, most of them.  They‘re talking about gangster government or totalitarianism.  That‘s another word we hear.  This is a totalitarian government now.  Maybe Michele Bachmann should take a trip to the Soviet Union with Todd Aiken (ph), if she wants to see a real totalitarian government. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain your joke.  There‘s no more Soviet Union. 

(CROSS TALK)

REAGAN:  OK.  But, as Bill Clinton pointed out, there‘s something very dangerous going on here, too.  You‘ve got 330 million people out there in the country and some of them are dilutional.  And when you use words like gangster or totalitarian, or let‘s take them out—that‘s another phraseology of Michele Bachmann‘s—not let‘s vote them out, let‘s take them out.  You‘ve giving people fodder and justification to load those AK-47‘s they bring to rallies.  That‘s bad news. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Errol on this.  How about Sarah Palin‘s cross-hairs that she sets up over the Democratic incumbents she wants to beat in Congress and saying reload?  What is this—this ballistic language everybody is using, this ammo, this—you know, what is the story here? 

ERROL LOUIS, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  I‘ll tell you, it‘s coded—it‘s

not very well coded.  But it‘s a coded appeal to Second Amendment

enthusiasts, shall we call them.  But when it mixes with this other toxic

talk, it brings you to this very dangerous place, where people think that -

not just the First Amendment, free speech, freedom of assembly, petitioning the government, debate, free and open debate on forums like this one.  That‘s not the way to change politics, but something involving the second amendment, something involving firearms and militias. 

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Errol, it‘s always there.  At every speech, Sarah Palin mentions gun rights, at every speech.  Bachmann does.  They all do, Rush.  They love the word gun.  They love the related to freedoms that are being denied us.  We‘re being denied our freedoms.  They‘re at stake here.  You‘re in jeopardy.  You need your gun to protect your freedom from your government.  Do you have to spell it out?  It seems like they‘re doing that. 

LOUIS:  But, look, psychologically, what they‘re appealing to is people‘s insecurity, clearly.  Because the gun is simply a symbol, right?  It surprises a lot of these conservatives that some of us progressives, some of us liberals actually aren‘t afraid of guns.  Some of us even grew up with guns in the house, as I did.  My dad was a New York City cop.  Some of us even know how to fire weapons.  They‘re using it for psychological impact, very dangerously. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  President Clinton on the current mood of the country. 

Let‘s listen to former President Bill Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever in America in the early 1990s.  First, it was a time, like now, of dramatic upheaval.  A lot of old arrangements had changed.  More and more people had a very difficult time living with confidence and optimism in the face of change.  It is true that we see some of that today. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ron, that‘s today.  That‘s the former president.  And it‘s one area where I think people really like Clinton, across the board, was his handling of Oklahoma City.  Whatever you think of his politics or whatever else, he was very strong in bringing this country together at a time when some people, like, you know, McVeigh, wanted to kill people. 

REAGAN:  Well, indeed.  And, you know, the fear is, and Errol spoke to it, that we‘re going to see thing like that again.  We‘ve already seen somebody flying their plane into an IRS building.  My own senator here, one of them in Washington State, Patty Murray, a man was arrested the other day for threatening to kill her because she voted on health care legislation in a way that he didn‘t appreciate. 

So, apparently, if you have an election and legislation is proposed the that was talked about during that election, and your side can‘t carry the day, then you start shooting people, apparently.  It really is—it‘s disturbing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m going to go back to Errol on this.  I agree with Ron about the resonance of the language.  I have a new standard for who I‘m going to accept as a regular politician.  People who—I‘m not going to draw the line at birthers anymore because they‘re beyond the pale.  Any politician that will stand on a platform with a birther and treat them like a companion in arms, someone they agree with politically, who doesn‘t believe this president is one of us, I want to ask them, show me your newspaper announcement when you were born.  I was a regular guy when I was born.  I didn‘t have something in the newspaper saying that I was born. 

For some reason, the president of the United States had enough prominence on the island of Hawaii that they put an announcement in the paper.  What more evidence do you need?  An announcement at the time that he was born.  These people running—if you will stand on—J.D. Hayworth plays ball with them.  Dick Armey plays ball with them.  These guys are playing ball with the fringe.  I think that‘s where a politician ought to be called to account.  If you‘re think they‘re OK, you‘re not OK.  Your thought, Errol? 

LOUIS:  I agree.  Listen, we‘ve had demagogues in politics for over two millennia at this point.  We know them when we see them.  We know how dangerous they are.  We know why they have to be called out.  And we know why they have to be corralled and put off to the margins, where they belong.  It‘s not going to be a pretty process, but that‘s exactly what has to happen. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  On the issue of drawing the line against the birthers, I think somebody—not on MSNBC, but on Fox, the other day, today drew a line against a real flake, he called her.  I think it was Glenn Beck.  There are limits even with him.  He wouldn‘t go along with a truther.  OK?  He thought anybody‘s a truther, believes that George Bush had some sort of pump, and he pumped and blew up the Trade Center on command, is a nut  who believes that, and is obviously believing it because they want to be a nut.  Your thoughts? 

REAGAN:  There are plenty of nuts.  But there‘s plenty of nuts, of course, on the other side here.  You‘re absolutely right about politicians who show up at these rallies and speak.  You think about this language that we‘re talking about today.  They‘re not speaking to the reasonable Tea Partiers.  They‘re not saying, you know, I didn‘t like that bank bailout a lot either. 

No, they‘re questioning the birth of the president of the United States and they‘re using violence-tinged language.  They‘re speaking to the lowest common denominator at these Tea Party rallies, deliberately doing it over and over again.  That‘s just irresponsible. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Errol, we‘ve had violence in this country affecting Ron‘s family, affecting our country.  We‘re out of time.  We all know what we‘re talking about.  The week‘s up.  Thank you, Ron Reagan.  Thank you, Errol Louis. 

When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts on a dying breed in the GOP.  They‘re called moderates and middle of the roaders.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with the Stalin-like purges now underway in the Republican party.  The first purge came in Pennsylvania, where Senator Arlen Specter, who has been elected five times as a Republican, was, by his telling, driven from the Republican party by the challenge from the Club for Growth and its candidate, Patrick Toomey.  Specter said there‘s no more room for him in the party anymore. 

Then came the assault on John McCain, a conservative Republican.  McCain is now facing a challenge on the right from J.D. Hayworth in the Republican primary.  I read in the newspaper today where someone was calling McCain—catch this—a progressive.  McCain has even needed to bring Sarah Palin into the state to help him ward off the challenge. 

Down in Florida today, Governor Charlie Crist is already faced with humiliation in the Republican primary for the Senate.  Challenged by Marco Rubio, he‘s been hit for basically accepting federal relief efforts and dealing with the national recession.  He may have to run as an independent in this election to have a decent chance of victory. 

The purge has reached absurd levels with the challenge to Senator Bob Bennett out in Utah, a real conservative by any standard definition.   Bennett‘s fighting for his political life against an array of contestants for that seat.  This is all quite bizarre.  I can remember when moderates were not only at home in the Republican party, they were viewed as the party‘s establishment, when Barry Goldwater said, in accepting the party‘s 1964 presidential nomination, that, quote, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” many in the party were appall and refused to join his campaign. 

Today, Goldwater could face a challenge for being too liberal.  His libertarian positions on familiar social issues could even be getting his conservative credentials challenged.  If mainstream conservatives can now be thrown under the bus along with party moderate, the Republicans may well be purging themselves out of national contention. 

I remember the old Groucho Marx line about his refusal to accept any club that would accept him as a member.  If it keeps purging itself like it is doing right now and moving its membership standards further and further to the right, the Republicans might find themselves shrinking to a party that the great majority of Americans don‘t want to join. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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